I have written extensively about how Labour's policies in Reading are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Many of them despite Gordon Brown's recent pronouncements are just plain unfair.The most recent example has been imposing service charges on Reading's council tenants - for basic services they currently get as part of their rent.
Well, last night Labour politicians in Reading went one better (or rather one worse ) - pushing through a 2.2% Council Tax increase. The proposed increase was higher than the national average (1.9%) and many neighbouring authorities. The timing of this hike could not be worse for Reading residents. As I pointed out last week, the recession continues to bite - with the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits rising last month.
As a party we are opposed to Council Tax in principle. It is an unfair tax. It is not progressive - far from it: Council Tax hits those on fixed incomes hardest - elderly people in particular. And for all the Conservative's hot air last night about the iniquities of our Council Tax system the Conservative Party nationally have no plans to abolish it if they come to power - and why would they? Council Tax was after all introduced by a Conservative government all those years ago.
Only the Lib Dems are committed to scrapping Council tax and replacing it with a fair tax system. We would go further - raising the tax threshold taking those who earn £10,000 or less out of income tax all together.We would also return local spending powers and decisions to local councils, who have seen their powers gradually eroded under successive Conservative and Labour governments.
The Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council opposed Labour's Council Tax rise last night. Because it is unfair and because we believe it is possible to provide good services for less and to continue to protect frontline services - plenty of other councils have done it. We are campaigning for better services and better value for money for local Council Tax payers. Reading residents have said they want better value for money from their Council - when surveyed in 2008 for the government's Place Survey 69% of residents surveyed said they didn't think RBC offered value for money.
There are too many areas where the Council is not living up to local people's expectations. For example, the fear of crime in Reading is higher than elsewhere and local residents have said they have little faith in the Council's ability to deal with this problem. Residents have said in survey after survey carried out on behalf of the Council that areas they want the Council to focus on tackling are: levels of crime, levels of traffic and clean streets - hardly rocket science!! And yet we have a Labour leadership that thinks chasing city status should be a top priority for the Council. But Labour stopped listening to the views of local people in Reading many years ago and they will pay a high price for this at the coming elections.
It should not be up to residents to plug the massive hole Gordon Brown and the Labour party have blown in the public finances. Councils, like other public bodies must tighten their belts. Yes, demand for some important council service is growing - for example in areas such as community care. And these important areas must be protected from cuts. However, savings must be made and overall when it comes to budget setting Labour's solution to every problem is always to throw public money at problems and increase Council Tax year after year in Reading (although when an election looms they are miraculously able to find savings). This approach is simply not sustainable: the money for extra spending has been spent - locally and nationally the level of public debt is not sustainable.
We made clear last night we were against the proposed Council Tax increase Labour put forward and we were prepared to listen to an alternative proposal from the Conservatives (they are the largest opposition group on RBC) which would allow Council Tax to be frozen in Reading . We waited...but none was forthcoming. The Conservatives failed to put forward any costed proposals about how they would achieve a reduction during the meeting and failed to turn up to vote on Labour's budget when it mattered. Their behaviour has landed Reading residents with a massive tax increase.This was irresponsible, gesture politics at it's worst from the Conservatives in which they promised a Council Tax freeze but failed to deliver one - which sadly followed last year's pattern. Serious times demands seriousness from local politicians - particularly when it comes to making decisions as important as this one that affects so many people in our Town.
Last night gave us more proof if proof were needed that neither the Labour or Conservative parties in Reading are the right people to run Reading Borough Council. And If you live in West Berkshire things do not look any rosier - there as leading Lib Dem councillor and Newbury PPC David Rendel has pointed out 'the vulnerable will pay more and receive less'.
If you feel strongly that our current tax system is unfair, you are opposed to further tax increases from Labour and you want elected representatives who care about fairness and value for money services the choice is clear: vote Lib Dem - the real alternative in the forthcoming local and general elections. Because as we discovered again last night what you get from the other parties when it comes to tax and spend is just more of the same.